Saturday, November 14, 2015

Turn the other cheek and love ISIS

While I don't agree with violence of any kind and I deplore what happened in Paris, this is an object lesson that I suspect will be ignored. Certainly, after September 11, I heard calls for revenge even in church (and from an Irish priest), despite Jesus' clear teaching to turn the other cheek and love our enemies.

I don't expect anyone in France to remember the deeply embedded hatred of Muslims in France and the mistreatment of all Arabs by the French. I'm sure few in France or elsewhere recall how France provided a major Western example of kidnapping, torture and murder without trial in Algeria in the late 1950s.

That didn't count in Western eyes, after all, in European eyes they were just Muslim brown people, rather than pseudo-Christian whites.

Paris, France was a fitting target for Muslim desperadoes. It wasn't just random. I don't approve of it, but I recognize it for what it is.

No one in the West ever thinks about these things, much as no one considered how decades of depredations of Western oil interests affected Muslims and the Arab world. Osama bin Laden's 1998 fatwah, although unquestionably a turgid rant, didn't come out of nowhere.

There's the tyranny of the House of Saud in the Arabian peninsula and the other various emirates ruled by princes selling out their people for oil revenues. There's the Mossadegh coup in Iran, the efforts against Nasser in Egypt, the Soviet/Russian alliance of convenience with the tyrannical Al Assads in Syria.

Then there's the elephant in the room: the 2 million Arab Palestinians many of whose families have lived as refugees in their own land since 1948.

The lesson is clear: let's find a peaceful way out of this situation. Let's open our doors to refugees and share our bounty with the world that has provided us fuel.

Let's lead, not with more war and money by the barrel to war-profiteering companies, but with peace and food and help for those who suffer in the Middle East.

Sure, the agents of violence must stop. But perhaps we should show them the way by example. Let's practice what we preach.

Let's not turn this into a perfect excuse to militarize our societies, shred what little is left of democracy in the West and start World War III.

Let's start, instead, World Peace I.

Friday, October 02, 2015

How I met Josh Radnor ...

Driving through minty green fields in my small boxy European car, I was looking for a lot to buy on an island. After I found one, my companion took me in her car back to the mainland.

She looked familiar. She was a twenty-something woman with long brown hair; I knew her, but try as I might I could not remember her name.

We went to meet some folks she said would be interested in my ideas. We waited for them for an enormously long time, looking out the window to the wintry narrow Oslo streets from a messy third-floor apartment. Inside, the lighting, which came from an unknown source, suffused the furniture with a dark gray hue that was set off only by a flat reflection of the walls' white paint.

When everyone gathered, they showed me several thumb-sized dongles that looked like plug extensions, except they had no pins. A blond guy in a suit, a serious but soft-spoken young man, explained that they were building a "skyryx."

I asked what a Skyryx was, but he couldn't explain it to me.

Every time he tried, others intervened to say that such-and-such a function was not yet proven to work. Somehow, it would connect or communicate or transform or control wifi channels and all sorts of peripherals from outside a computer or from other devices.

I got stuck on the name because it didn't mean anything. However, the group vociferously rejected verbs such "switch" or "connect" or "control" to describe what the new gadget would do. But that's what it does or might do, I argued, to no avail.

Suddenly, they realized they were late for something else and left in a hurry without saying goodbye. Even my companion left me alone. I fell asleep and later woke up in the disturbing grayish apartment.

Near me were the dongles and a dark rectangular cardboard box about the size of a piano-bench seat. In it were blueprints and instructions. I put all the dongles in the box and walked out with everything to find my car, which was back on the island.

My island had meanwhile been plowed and built up, with beautiful little farmhouses here and there dotting neatly plowed fields. As I became familiar with the terrain, it came to me that a magnate was buying up all the land on the island, almost leaving mine locked off the road.

Looking around, I realized that my plot had no path from the main road to my newly built farmhouse, near which was my car.  So I began to trudge through fields to get there. The island had unnaturally minty green plants that stood up like wheat stalks. Fortunately, they were not stiff, so I could easily push my way through as they waved in a gentle breeze.

The field in which I was walking was about a person's height higher than my field, but I came across a downward sloping rutted dirt path. I just knew it led to my car and started down that way.

Then, as I was almost at my car, I heard loud voices from the field from which I had just come. They were calling out to someone who, because he was on the higher field, I couldn't see. I left my stuff in the car and went to help.

Retracing my steps, I came to close to where he was and recognized one of the guys who showed me the gadget. He was carrying a thermos, which kept him from gripping plants to steady his way down the path without slipping.

"Give me the thermos and I'll help you," I said to the youngish man.

As he passed me the thermos, he turned his attention to me and recognized me. "Hey, a lot of people are looking for you. Do you know where the stuff we showed you is?" he said.

"I have it in the car," I replied. "If I'm going to name the thing, I have to understand it, so I took it to study it."

Turns out I hadn't understood that I wasn't on the project yet; the encounter had been a job interview and they hadn't decided on me.

"It's an 'outboard nexus,' "I said.


"We should call it an Outboard Nexus," I repeated, explaining the name by way of recalling the engine off a small fishing boat.

We drove back to the mainland in my car. Back at the grayish apartment they all argued with me.

Then I realized. The guy with the thermos was Josh Radnor. I knew I knew that face.
Josh Radnor, who played protagonist Ted
Mosby in the TV show "How I Met Your Mother"
That's when I woke up and trudged to the bathroom. It was 5 am.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Every human being is unique, but maybe you are more unique than others

One of the things I learned in grand jury duty is that they were not my peers. Could I be fairly judged anywhere? Is each of us so unique that we are peerless?

A friend offered the phrase in the title as a response: Every human being is unique, but maybe you are more unique than others.

Ever since the 1960s, after which everyone had to be "creative"* and, of course, of such individuality as to be unique, people have been going around saying idiotic, self-contradictory things such as "everyone is special" (said by a Special Education teacher, in front of a crowd that included a politician whose kid was in her class). I loved the 1960s and would not reverse them by any means, but some things got misunderstood.

One of them is this business of uniqueness. Saying everyone is unique is a way of saying no one is.

Of course, our fingerprints and DNA are, at some cellular and micro-molecular levels, unique. However, let's not get too carried away by that. Because we all have DNA and fingerprints, and in that respect we are universally like one another.

We are, if we think of the Creator as a painter and the elements of our being the colors of a palette, variations or hues from the same range of possibilities. In the beginning, She painted one person tall and one person short, one fat, one skinny, one dark, one more pale and so forth.

Of course, given 7 billion** people, the number of possibilities is pretty large.

I applied the numbers to myself. I belong to a number of people in our era who, as a result of parents' background and peripatetic jobs, were born in the 1950s as part of a cultural fusion, anticipating by decades the effects of globalization and instant global communication (the Internet). In my case the mix was unlikely, as the two particular national cultures included that of Argentina and of the United States.

There are 41.3 million Argentines, or 0.59% of the world's population and 312.8 million Americans, 4.47% of the world's human beings. A probability calculation yields a 2.65% of the world's population that has the same two cultural components.

I am male, so I must pare that down by half (1.33% of all people). I am part of the post-World War II "baby boom" generation, which represents roughly 17% of the population (down to 0.07% of all people).

That's pretty unique, you'll say. And I haven't counted other distinguishing characteristics: hair and skin color, height and weight, languages spoken, education attainment and so on and so forth.

There remains the fact that the science of medicine that applies to other people applies to me. My liver may function differently from yours, but we both have livers and the medicine to cure mine will more than likely cure yours.

Indeed, if we were truly unique, we could not have language and communication (yes, most people are very bad at this) nor any kind of collective characteristics.

Still, perhaps I tend to be rare because I speak two languages with an identical and very high proficiency, plus a few others only a smattering, or just enough for etymology, history or exegesis, all hobbies of mine.

Among Argentine-Americans (of whom I know only my half-siblings), I am among the half (mathematical odds) that chose to fight the unaccepting social environment of one part of my culture, rather than flee the conflict.

I became the contrarian whose musings populate this blog by the force of habit. I almost expect people to disagree with me and vice versa.

* To create still means to make something from nothing, to originate the existence of something. No human being is creative; we are, at best and hope the crick don't rise, innovative in our arrangement of what there is.

** All population figures are for 2012 for comparability.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why the angry U.S. middle class sees Trump as their spokesman

Below is a graphic representation applied to Argentina by citizens of that country who posted it on Facebook. It also applies in modified form to the USA.
To understand, change “Viene un gobierno popular” (a populist government is elected) to the Democrats take the White House. Let’s set aside the arguments among the three lefty Americans as to whether the Democrats are populists; in comparison, and within the conventional spectrum, they are.

Next, merely translate “aumenta la clase media” (the middle class increases).

In Obama’s case, the middle class was very slowly pulled out of a hole the banks (and Republicans dug); more importantly still, the middle class was saved from altogether disappearing permanently, which in 2009 was a distinct possibility. People forget that for a while it looked as if we were headed for becoming, in socioeconomic terms, the United States of Bangladesh.

“La clase media empieza a creerse oligarquía y apoya la derecha” at the bottom right means: the middle class begins to think of itself as the oligarchy and supports the right-wing.

In the USA we have to adjust for the fact that even the 1% don’t have the guts to call themselves “the oligarchy.” (Besides, what’s  an oligarchy? Rule of the few). Nonetheless, many middle class people who are benefited by the Democrats' middle class social programs have begun to identify with the poster children for the 1%, Republican politicians.

 “La derecha destruye la clase media” means the right-wing destroys the middle class. Think 2007-08.

“La clase media empobrecida vota a un gobierno popular” means the impoverished middle class votes for a populist government. Think the presidential elections of 1992 and 2008.

We return to the beginning. I think we may be in the next stage, if the Republicans manage to cleverly misdirect the middle class into thinking that they are poorer because of immigrants. As Trump seems to be doing.

Welcome to the United States of Argentina.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What is wrong (or missing) with Obama; Why Hillary seems like more of the same

Consider this: “the Obama administration’s approach to governance: politically rational incrementalism that reinforces the existing power structures and is grossly insufficient given the scope of the problem.”

With that quote, the left-leaning magazine Jacobin has finally distilled for me, in an article about energy policy (which I do not normally follow much) the essence of the practices of the Obama presidency and its problems.

It fits. This is what is wrong with everything Obama has done: the audacity of audacity. Obama is basically The Man’s man.

Apply it to health policy. Remember “health care reform”? The hope in electing Obama was to change the economics of health care so that it was a universal, rationally purchased set of goods and services—“single payer” or what the British and I prefer to call it, socialized medicine.

I’ve used the United Kingdom’s National Health and it was wonderful before Thatcher. I can say the same for the Canadian system of a similar era.

The thing is there is nothing boring, cabbage-like or—horrors!—Soviet about nationalizing and making medicine available to all as a human right. Our closest neighbors and cultural kin have done it without waving red flags.

Instead, we got a worthy, viable, somewhat fairer—but to those already insured—not inexpensive form of health insurance reform. Medicine is still nowhere near universal and the costs of the system run by the mafia known as the American Medical Association (when you find a middle-income doctor, let me know) are skyrocketing still.

Sure, Obama was an eminently better choice than McCain or Romney. I voted for him twice for obvious reasons. He’s smarter, wiser, more adroit. He has never had decent congressional relations people—I can’t fathom why—but he has been a pretty decent president

However, to those of us expecting what he promised—remember what one idiot called the “hopey-changey thing”?—Obama let us down.

This is what makes me leery of Hillary. Sure, she will be better than Trump or Jeb if it comes to that. But might not Bernie Sanders be better and a real change? I am beginning to come to that line of thinking.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Journalism is dead, long live journalism!

Nothing speaks more eloquently about the death of journalism in the Internet age as the front pages of today's New York Times and Washington Post, both covering the Greek crisis (and the gumption of the Greeks, which I salute) with the exact same Reuters photo.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Afluenza, anyone? A pool on the 17th floor for a few million

Dad in pool, boy bomb-diving, girl dipping toes in the water, older boy approaching and mom in a radiant yellow summer dress and straw hat, a scene that could be anywhere except for the skyline of Manhattan reflected in the floor-to-ceiling windows at the pool's side.

Then you realize you are looking at "Residence 17E" of a luxury apartment skyscraper that is being advertised in the inside cover of this morning's New York Times Magazine—which, of course, you still get delivered in print to your door.

Let's move there, you say. After all, the apartments go for a mere "$3.5M up to $25M." The M does not stand for the Spanish imperial coin maravedí, but for a million good old, greenbacks from Uncle Sam.

But then you realize: it's on the West Side of Manhattan. Their view is of New Jersey. Oh, please!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My Future

Today is my 63rd birthday and in The New York Times there are three obituaries that remind me how short my days are now. 

One has the death of Hermann Zapf, designer of 200 typefaces, including ZapfDingbats (see below), which I use in my work (sparingly). He died at the remarkable age of 96.

Zapf Dingbats sample.tiff
Zapf's dingbats

A second obit announces the death of the man who prosecuted cult-leader and assassin Charles Manson, and later became a crime writer, Vincent Bugliosi. He was 80.

A third is the less-well-known Vincent Musetto, a retired New York Post headline writer, one who was best remembered for HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR. The story was of a grisly crime on April 13, 1983, involving decapitation. Musetto died at 74.

If I follow far less famously in their footsteps, I can expect to live 11, 17 or, less likely, 33 more years.

All of which brings me to a gospel passage pointed out to me recently. It contains what in earlier stages of life I might not have considered a remarkable pearl of wisdom, but today, thinking of life and death as proximate things, it does.

The evangelist John puts in the risen Jesus' mouth the following words, addressed to the apostle Peter:
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (John 21:18)
I already experience hearing loss and my eyes require more help from my glasses than they used to in the past. Someone this weekend reminded me that in retirement I may be less mobile than I am now. Then, toward the end, a hand will take me further where I have no desire to go, because I can't imagine it. Living is all I know.

I am comforted, I don't quite know why, just knowing that this is all in the natural order of things. It need not involve decapitation, nor adversary action in the legal system nor require of me a lasting burst of graphic creativity. I will just be carried there.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Lip Service confirms I should have been a Lesbian

More than a bit enamored by the BBC's 2010-11 series Lip Service, I awake thinking of my bed companion as one of the characters. I even call her Frankie and ask, "Fancy a shag?"

Ruta Gedmintas as Frankie Alan and Laura Fraser as Cat MacKenzie
Lip Service is about a group of thirtysomething high-pheromone lipstick lesbians (i.e., not butch) in Glasgow. Can't get enough of those Scottish accents!

Don't get me wrong: I am an Argentine-American of the heterosexual male persuasion. Still, being a woman with another woman? Intriguing at the very least.

Of course, as with most of my species I'm erotically drawn to the visuals of two naked women rubbing against each other. Think of all that excess of naked breasts nipple to nipple. Is that hot or what?

But it goes beyond that. I like women. I really like women.

Women tell me that one of my winning traits is that, unlike most men, I really listen to them. Yes, my eyes glaze over when the subject turns to fashion and kittens and babies (seen one, seen 'em all). But I share a generalized aversion to sports, love of literature and chick flicks. I can speak about feelings and inner thoughts for hours.

Moreover, penises are overestimated. They have to become engorged and elevated, they have to find the correct orifice (in some cases this can be problematic). And don't get me started about testicles!

Besides, men have to engage in oneupmanship in the marketplace, play sports, go to war and like it. Women get to have feelings, express them and the hell with anything else.

Most of all, when women break up, they mope and cry, then they move to another city, repaint their homes and become brain surgeons lickety split, surrounded by kindred-soul women and the occasional handsome guy. A guy breaks up and he can't find his underwear and socks.

So I could totally get into being a woman.

OK, scratch out menstruation and childbirth, with a thick felt-tip pen until not even the thought is visible. Scratch bitchy competition to be pretty and gain men's attention. Scratch saying "I'm sorry" for everything that is entirely not my fault.

Add to those minor adjustments the possibility of encountering love with someone aesthetically pleasing, usually well-groomed, who can cook, is always looking out for me. Not to mention gentle, soft, caring.

I'm in. Frankie and Cat forever!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

To live, perchance to grow down

I have settled on "growing down" as a description of the next 30 years of my life ("if, if, if, cry the green bells of Cardiff").

A childhood of sorts is coming on, a slow losing of touch with reality as my hearing deteriorates (the world is too noisy, anyway). How long before my eyesight goes, my sense of smell, my ability to feel? I'm not worried about Alzheimer's, if I get it that won't be my problem; I will be in some other planet. I do hope I can avoid pain.

There's also a dawning realization of what wasn't and won't be. I didn't grow up to be President of the United States like John F. Kennedy nor win the Nobel Peace Prize like Albert Schweitzer. I wasn't a particularly well-liked individual (although I was a profficient seducer, one on one). I took care of myself and mine, passably well in material terms, but I don't think that outside my household anyone's life is better because I existed. 

My generation was going to bring peace and love and and sharing ... and here we are ... fighting "terrorism," watching African-Americans unjustifiably killed by police with impunity, watching how even in the richest countries the poor swallow up the middle class into their pits of misery while a banal meaningless few live in Luxuristan.

Growing down is a kind of solution. Perhaps there is reincarnation. Perhaps I was even worse in a past life and in the next I'll carry the lessons of accomplishing nothing in this one.

Eventually it will be all over. A thousand years from now, or one hundred thousand perhaps, an archeologist will pick up a bone fragment from my skull and exclaim, "ah, a primitive from the turn of the 21st century."

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The suicide that was not a suicide in the asylum that is not an asylum

Karl Marx was right when he wrote: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." For proof, one need not look beyond the strange case of the Argentine prosecutor whose president has ended up declaring his death "the suicide that was not a suicide."

The bare facts simplified:

1) Alberto Nisman spent roughly 20 years investigating the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association community center in Buenos Aires.

2) Nisman's leading theory of the crime was that the bombing could be traced back to a criminal conspiracy involving the Iranian government, all covered up by the government of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

3) On January 18, Nisman was found dead in his home, of a gunshot head wound with a weapon at his side, a development that was reported as a suicide until indications appeared that homicide could not be ruled out.

For about the past two weeks, Argentines on the Internet have been screaming that Kirchner is a "murderer," to which misguided Kirchner supporters have offered the shrill response that "we warned" the dead prosecutor.

Then, the once merely mediocre Washington Post bravely decides to vie for last place among major U.S. metropolitan newspapers.

On February 2, yesterday, the paper ran a front page story, written by reporters allegedly on the scene in Buenos Aires. On second and subsequent mention, they refer to the president of Argentina as "Fernandez." This is the equivalent of referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton as plain "Rodham."

To this average netizen, sitting in Washington, D.C., far from the events in Buenos Aires, where he once lived, the whole thing is perplexing and annoying to the point of inducing an eerie sense of insanity.

The AMIA bombing years ago struck me as yet another sad chapter in the long story of Argentine anti-Semitism. Adolf Eichmann, the SS-Obersturmbannführer who was one of the main organizers of the Holocaust, chose his hiding place well. He was seized outside Buenos Aires in 1960 before being tried and executed in Israel.

The idea that Iran is somehow involved in the AMIA bombing seems odd to me: there is no dearth of home-grown haters of Jews in Argentina and no need to import any. But, OK, let's say that Nisman had information he didn't share with me; I didn't know who he was until just before his death.

Also preposterous to me is Nisman's notion that former vicepresident Kirchner, who became president in 2003 upon the death of her husband Nestor, would  be involved in Nixonesque shenanigans concerning events a decade before she was in power. One might as well suspect Hillary Clinton of involvement in the Reagan-Bush Iran-Contra coverup.

And yet, and yet ... if everything in Argentina looks as if it is a reflection in one of those warped fun-house mirrors, perhaps that is the way they really are. Just as Nisman's suicide is not a suicide, Argentina is an asylum that pretends to be a country.

My ancestors were Argentine and I live in Washington partly to escape that past, even as I try to learn from it.

One of the lessons is that Argentine history is, indeed, a story of mistakes transmogrified into disasters and devolved into sheer absurdity. Another is that, even when posted as correspondents in Buenos Aires, Americans will never understand what I mean.

Friday, January 30, 2015

I've figured out the Charlie Hebdo killings

Broadly speaking, I've figured out a theory that explains the Charlie Hebdo killings. Obviously, it doesn't involve the specter of murdering Muslims haunting Europe, so bandied in the popular media.

The ancient Romans had a method of inquiry for dealing with events of this nature in which the actors were known, but the motives and implications murky. They asked: Qui bono? (who benefits?)

Set aside whether the artists and writers of Charlie Hebdo magazine had exceeded the bounds of good taste and were providing a safe haven for Islamophobia to white, formerly Christian Europeans who styled themselves too intellectual to be merely prole racists. (They were, but that's not important.)

Set aside whether the killers, for their part, were the most ordinary of youthful, largely jobless non-white, non-Christian (and non-former-Christian) immigrants in Europe, full of rage toward a social environment in which their ethnicity and religion is largely despised and disparaged as a matter of routine. (They were, but set it aside.)

Who benefits from stirring up Islamophobia and sending cadres of police stormtroopers all over Europe hunting Arabs who are allegedly extremist?

I've figured it out: people who possess and sell oil.

Think about it. The price of oil has been falling. In some parts of the United States (unfortunately, not where I live) people can buy a gallon of gas for less than $2.00, a price not seen in years!

For North Africa and the Middle East, however, this is an unmitigated disaster. Similarly, oil stocks have been plunging and petroleum extraction companies have begun laying people off.

Who need a war to stir up insecurity in oil supplies and jack up the price again?

Saudi Arabia, ISIS (which now controls oil wells and refineries), Iraq and Iran, but also Exxon, Shell, Chevron and all the biggest environmental pollution makers.

These are not exactly nice people. Ask the birds of the Gulf of Mexico or ask the subjects of the Saud royal family. These are people who connived and plotted to bring about the permanent instability and ebullience of the Middle East, in the service of oil production.

These are people who overthrew neutralist Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh in 1953 and gave the world decades of Shah rule under the savage SAVAK secret police ... until youthful Muslim mobs in the 1970s asserted popular sentiment and put in the Ayatollah and the Muslim constitution.

These oil-profit-driven conspirators are also the same people who have given weapons equal to those used to protect the president of the United States (remember AWACS?) to an absolute hereditary monarchy, that of the Sauds, which forbids the practice of other faiths.

We shall never know exactly who wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein and invade Iraq. But we have the body counts: hundreds of thousand of Iraqi dead and the 5,000 or so Americans.

Is it inconceivable that the Mafia-like combination of commercial interests and hegemonic families of the Middle East and West conspired to arrange that someone pick some disgruntled, Arab ghetto youths in France, put weapons in their hands and direct their rage against "innocent" satirists?

This, I contend, is what happened.

Some people stand to benefit from killings, persecution, more or less contained but permanent regional wars that make the supply of the world's largest reserves of oil unstable. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, the "Arab Spring" and the decimation of the leadership of Al Qaeda were bringing to a close the so-called "war" against "terrorism."

Even the price of oil was dropping to levels seen when prosperity was shared somewhat more equitably. Peace was budding.

Can't have that, can we? Next to oil, war is one of the most profitable businesses.

All the rest, the noise on TV, radio and the newspapers, is merely a smokescreen meant to distract the populace, us, back into fearful social compliance. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Back to the retrofuture

The word "retrofuture" perfectly captures one's thinking about a number of "new" things after one has been around the historical block a few times. It was brought to my attention by Argentine graphic artist Germán Ponce, who was captivated by a "new" design of a Renault that stylizes one from the 1960s.

Of course, retrofuture involves, first, a sense of déjà vu.

Take, for example, the Cloud, that wired or wireless repository of data and, increasingly, programs in a location far, far away. The tendency toward subscription software and data in the Cloud coupled with the electronic tablet reminds me of nothing so much as the mainframe and the dumb terminal.

Is it good? Is it bad? Retrofuture involves some ill foreboding.

Who can deny that Libertarian Rand Paul, with his proclaimed love of the business owner's freedom to choose who will be served, wants to take us back to 1963 and the "white" and "colored" lunch facilities? Or that the Bush family wants to take us back to the political economy of 1915 ... or 1815?

Yet the retrofuture is not all evil.

Think of the commodious, quiet, nonpolluting streetcar of yesteryear. When they first electrified the streetcars, which originally were pulled by horses, the vehicles were said to travel at 15 km/h, a speed that is said to have prompted my horse-and-buggy era maternal grandmother to have exclaimed, "They'll kill themselves!"

The street car was killed in many countries by a greedy combination of auto and petroleum industries and plutocratic demagogues of the 1930s, 40s and 50s (see "General Motors streetcar conspiracy").

Now it's coming back in many U.S. cities. The streetcar will save the Earth!

Germán is a youngish man who is fond of now "classic" designs of my boyhood and adolescence in the 1950s and 60s. I assume, perhaps wrongly, that he does not realize quite how much of everything new is actually is something I have seen before. I say so with a bit of envy and that curmudgeonly sentiment that "youth is wasted on the young."

But some of it was wonderful and some of the wonders are coming back. So I join my artistic friend in celebrating the retrofuture, a place in which some good ideas from the past come back and the bad ones are again rejected.

Thank you, my friend, for an eminently useful word.

Friday, January 09, 2015

France doth protest too much about Charlie Hebdo

How dare I say "I am NOT Charlie Hebdo"!* How dare I think the World Trade Center twin towers were ugly (I did and I do) and the bond traders within were somewhat less than saints and heroes!

It turns out that the much vaunted freedom of speech does not extend to the contrarian who says "wait an effing minute, here" when everybody suddenly chants the same chant -- while the war profiteers rub their hands with glee.

In emails with a French friend across the Atlantic, who amuses me with her Gaullocentric opinions, I am hitting the bedrock of self-contradiction in the values of the Eurocentric West, which includes the United States and territories south and north.

Our supposedly open and free Western values prevent us from acknowledging that the point of view and values of Jihadists, as distasteful as they may be to us, are equal to ours.

The Jihadists feel about Western power pretty much the way Catholic medieval Europeans felt about the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Their societies, let's remember, function largely as traditional societies functioned in Europe 1,000 years ago.

They are not democracies and proud of that. All authority is theocratic and absolute. Women are subject to men. People get limbs (and sexual organs) cut off for transgressions, or to comply with law.

That's not my cup of tea, either, dear Western reader. But it's theirs and they have -- by our Western "enlightened" values -- a right to it.

Let's step back from our cultural biases for a moment.

When we Westerners go and try to "modernize" them with "human rights," we think we are being enlightened and helping them. Thus the huge Western mistake of demonizing the Taliban and anathemizing the burka.

When the citizens of countries that are predominantly Muslim look at our Western behavior, they reasonably think we are imposing our values. They think we are introducing heresies and wrongdoing. They are deeply offended by what they perceive as the blasphemy of humanism and the immorality of naked hedonism.

And this says nothing of the way Western governments have set up and supported all sorts of monarchs, sultans and dictators -- none of them stellar advocates of human rights other than their own -- so long as they would sell us oil at a price we like.

So it is all fine and dandy to act outraged at their violent behavior in Paris, but it is only one more way we in the West ignore their cultural values and treat them as inferior savages in need of our superior ideas.

Who says democratic humanist secularism is better than theocratic Islamism? Didn't "civilized" Europe annihilate about 300 million people between 1914 and 1945? How dare we, Western Eurocentrics, proclaim that we have the superior values?

What gives us the gall to assert that all the brown and dark people, if they won't worship the Christianity we have never exemplified, should at least worship the human rights we don't respect?

This why I am NOT Charlie Hebdo. This is also why, the French and all their sudden "I am Charlie Hebdo" sympathizers, in the Shakespearean paraphrase, do protest too much.

* I apologize to readers who could not comment on my last post. For a variety of artistic and technical reasons, I wanted to change my post's headline and the headline-related link, ending up deleting and replacing the post. No Jihadists (or Western intelligence agencies) were hurt in the writing of this blog.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

I am NOT Charlie Hebdo

I said it on 9/11 and I'll say it now. It's easy to label someone else "terrorist" and be done with it, but what we should really be doing is trying to figure out what it is about the established order that propels some people to killing satirists.

I'm not saying I approve of the killings at all. But clearly, there is something afoot driving some people to clearly criminal and extreme behavior.

Maybe they have a grudge against the Eurocentric capitalist West? Is such a grudge justified, even if the murders are not? What can we, civilized and peace-loving citizens of the world do to heal the wounds that are causing such acts of desperation?

Because clearly, unless this was the work of provocateurs working for Western intelligence agencies, the murder of writers and artists at a satirical French magazine was a cry of despair. It's not a sane act, it does not gain anyone any profit (unless it is provocateurs trying to drum up more war).

Why did the murders occur? Why the Boston bombing? Why 9/11? Why the bombings in Madrid and London? There are people who obviously have despaired of having their grievances aired fairly and listened to with seriousness of purpose.
What are these grievances? How can we reach out to people who might become like these murderers and bombers and prevent the next loss of life?